Monday, February 25, 2013

My Little Actress

After a vacation day, and especially after the fun of Purim, Raphaela had other ideas than mine regarding her attendance at Gan.  She woke up at 6 am, looked at me, flopped on her stomach and said, "Mommy, I want to go back to sleep."  When that plan didn't work, we had the following conversation:

Raphaela:  I must stay home today, I am so sick.
Mommy:  Let me take your temperature... (digital thermometer)  36.5, you are perfectly healthy.
Raphaela:  I think you should take my temperature again, just to be sure.
Mommy:  (digital thermometer) 36.5, you are not sick, hooray!  We are going to Gan.
Raphaela:  But I need the strawberry medicine! [Acamoli, children's aspirin]
Mommy:  You only get Acamoli when you have fever, and you don't have fever, and you are not sick.
Raphaela:  (Pauses, you can see the wheels turning inside her head) COUGH COUGH!  That's a terrible cough!  You don't like it when I cough, I need to stay home.

Needless to say, Raphaela realized that her expert acting skills would not convince me, and she agreed to get dressed and go to Gan.  No matter, she has another vacation day this Friday for the Jerusalem Marathon, an event which will close half the streets in the city and most of my area.  One which I will observe this year, and hopefully participate next year.

Purim Day 2013

Taking advantage of the amazing weather, Raphaela and I went to the zoo today before our official Purim festivities.  I wore my Superman cape, and after flying around a bit, Raphaela exclaimed in admiration, "Mommy, you are so Super!"

Only in Israel can a grown-up go to the zoo in costume, and fit right in with all the other adults and children, all dressed up in honor of the day and proud to show off their Purim identities in public.

Though continuing to refuse to wear any sort of costume, Raphaela quite enjoyed seeing the animals, especially because she has developed a crush on Diego, and she aspires to be an Animal Rescuer some day.

Later, at the Purim Feast I have attended at the same family for the last 16 years, the host pulled me aside and said, "Motherhood has done wonderful things for you, I can see your inner joy on your face."

We will both sleep very well tonight, both of us exhausted from the day, and as I said to Raphaela, "Even Superman has to rest sometimes."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

This morning Raphaela asked me what blessing we make on the occasion of putting on nail polish.

Friday, February 22, 2013

I was trying to explain Quantum Physics to Raphaela and she said, "So I am small on the inside and big on the outside?"


How am I supposed to work on my trust issues when people who supposedly care about me keep breaking my trust?  How much longer can I hold onto my hopeful optimism regarding humanity before I slip into my former New Yorker "Lord of the Flies" cynicism?

Savta Shira - a woman who has known me for over 13 years, a woman who accompanied me to every ultrasound when I was pregnant, a woman who said she wanted to watch Raphaela grow up into adulthood - has officially un-adopted Raphaela and me from her Israeli family.  I received an email, her first communication since she lambasted me as a mother in October 2012, in which she explained that she is "putting her guard up," and that she has come to the conclusion that no one else is important or worth her love and effort besides immediate blood relatives.  That she doesn't have the space for us, emotionally or physically, and that we are expendable; that she had only "hesitantly" agreed to be Raphaela's Israeli grandmother as a space filler for her children who lived in the States.

There will be no more holidays spent together, and she is "unavailable" to me if I need a sounding board.

Then after another snide comment about my parenting skills, she said that "maybe in two months...when her schedule clears a little," she will think about finding the time for us.

I know, it's not about me, it's all her.  And yet it doesn't take away the sting or the confusion in my heart.

My first thought was that something has gone terribly wrong in her life.  My second thought was that of feeling insulted, wondering why she wouldn't want my friendship and support if Savta Shira was indeed experiencing difficulties.  My third thought was "Fuck you!  I will not be your collateral damage."

I must think not just about myself, but for Raphaela;  it is unreasonable and cruel to bring someone into her life who will float in and out, say she loves my daughter and then disappear for half a year because it is somehow inconvenient.  Part of me believes that we are better off without Savta Shira and her inconsistencies, and the other part of me is sad for the loss of the relationship.

At least, I suppose, I can thank Savta Shira for her brutal honesty.

Ever since I can remember, my mother has preached/threatened, "No one will love you as much as your real family.  Everyone else will inevitably disappoint you.  Every human being on the planet ultimately looks out for themselves."

I pray to G-d my mother's world-view can be proven wrong, but not today.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Purim Party Trauma

For the past three weeks or so, the Gan has been leading the children towards Purim, one of my favorite holidays in Israel. I look forward to that day when all the nursery schools have their parties, you walk through the streets of Jerusalem and it feels like Mardi Gras.

Last night I painted Raphaela's nails, in anticipation of her Butterfly Princess costume.  This morning she put on her Butterfly crown and robe.  But the closer we got to Gan, the more difficult her behaviour became.  She stopped walking, insisted that she did not want to attend the Purim Party, did not care if all the other children were wearing costumes, Raphaela just wanted to go home.  Right before the steps of the Gan building she threw off her costume, and while the other children and their parents were celebrating together, taking photos etc., my daughter lay flailing on the floor and crying.

The kid was even willing to give up the promise of a basket full of junk food in order to avoid this day.

It made me frustrated and angry, because I didn't understand her resistance and the sudden change in her attitude.  I left her at Gan sobbing in the arms of her nursery teacher.

When I got home, I called one of my closest friends and told her this story, and her reply, concise and accurate:  "What's that, a stubborn and independent child?  A recalcitrant little person who is exerting her control over her life?  An intelligent girl who does not follow the crowd...Hmmm, I wonder where that comes from?"

Then she said the most wise words of all, "It is hard to look in the mirror and see your true self reflected, the good and the less flattering."

I know that my anger towards Raphaela and the situation as a whole was not at all effective and in fact misplaced; I have to let go and let my daughter do what she needs to do at her own pace.  It's not like this pattern is new, I saw the same when it came to her walking and toilet training.

I cannot control Raphaela, only give her guidelines and hope that she learns to live within this world in a way that ultimately gives her joy and success.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hebr-ish word of the day:  CATSIM  (The plural of cats...or something like that.  I am sure a linguist could decipher the thought process.)

And speaking of our favorite feline, this morning Harry came downstairs with as we walked to Gan.  When I came home twenty minutes later, he greeted me at the front door of the building, and rather than coming inside with me, he nuzzled up against me; I picked him up, gave him a snuggle and a deep belly rub, and he happily jumped out of my arms and into the garden to play with his friends.

Perhaps Raphaela and Harry have rubbed off on each other more than I realize.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Social Issues

When I picked up Raphaela from Gan this afternoon, she seemed abnormally quiet and disturbed about something, and it took about ten minutes at home for her to open up to me.  She came over to me and said solemnly, "Thea is not my friend anymore."

[Thea is her best friend this year, a little girl who also speaks both English and Hebrew in the home, and who lives right down the block. Her parents are free-spirits of sorts, and a visit to their apartment is like stepping back into the sixties, where imagination and freedom of expression are encouraged, as well as artistic expressions such as coloring on the walls.]

I asked Raphaela what happened to cause this break in their friendship, and received several versions of the story;  what I understood is that Thea was pulling Raphaela toward a particular game and got too rough.  My daughter, having become over-sensitive to bullying from her previous supposed Montessori Gan, perceived it as unwanted and deliberate violence.

I explained to Raphaela that she needs to tell Thea if play becomes uncomforatble for her, and that I am certain that her friend did not mean to hurt her purposely.

Several minutes later, in a discussion of potential play-dates this week, Thea appeared prominently on the list as a welcome, desired and invited play mate and friend.

I can only hope that these social issues are as easily resolved when Raphaela reaches high school.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chiropractic Conference, Child in Tow

Armed with a standard parental bag of tricks - snacks, activities, iPad, change of  clothing - Raphaela and I attended the semi-annual meeting of the Israel Chiropractic Society.  She was surely the youngest and cutest person there, and behaved with remarkable maturity for her three years, even allowing me to make my presentation without interruption.  When she saw other (trained) Chiropractors adjusting each other, she insisted upon joining and proceeded to perform a thoroughly convincing interpretation of the treatment she has observed in my clinic.

We had a sketchy moment when she removed her shoes and socks and started jumping the two king-size exhibition mattresses on display in the back of the room, but I figured it was the most practical way to test-drive the product, if anyone asked or disapproved.

After I was soundly elected as Vice President of the ICS (30-4 in my favor), Raphaela showed her happiness by inviting me to join her in the "We Did It" dance from Dora the Explorer.  When I spoke to the other members before the vote, I said the following,"I offer my candidacy because I know I can make a difference.  Some of you may look at the fact that I have brought my toddler to this meeting as a sign of weakness, that I have too much on my plate to take on even more responsibility.  But let me tell you, as a single mother and a committed professional I have become a most excellent multi-tasker.  What is the famous saying? 'If you want something done, give the job to a busy person.' Well, I am a very busy person."

After lunch there were more planned academic lectures, but I could not pass up the opportunity of summer weather and some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Israel.  Raphaela and I spent the entire afternoon frolicking in the soft sand and the waves of Herzeliya, and it took all my will power to leave that place of serenity and sit on the road for two hours on the way back to Jerusalem.

The best part of my day was spending it with my child, a rare treat in a week where she usually attends Gan for nine hours per day.  I think, however, that I may soon have to leave Jerusalem and find a city with a beach house;  of course once I have that exceptional view every morning, I may never go to work again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Take Your Kid to Work Conference

It's flu season indeed.  Two weeks ago Raphaela was home for two days with a minor version of the virus, that weekend I suffered beyond anything I could have imagined with a full-blown version.  But I thought we were past this particular plague, until Raphaela was sent home today from Gan with an eye infection.  No fever, just junky eyes, which I know is quite contagious the first day.

Now she is on anti-biotics and will be staying home tomorrow, or not....I have a Chiropractic conference in Herzeliya and I intend on attending, even if I have to take my daughter with me to work, so to speak.  I will be making a presentation which I have planned for weeks, there will be food and I will bring activities to keep her busy. 

We will probably leave earlier than I had planned, but quite frankly I have had enough of the Universe screwing with my plans.

Marathon Blues

This week I attended an all-class reunion for my high school in Boston,  15% of their alumni have moved to Israel since the institution opened its doors 75 years ago, and the turnout of close to 200 people of several generations was quite impressive and unexpected, even for those who planned the event.

Having not particularly enjoyed high school, because I felt that they continually stifled my individuality in favor of the "Box A" or "Box B" approach, I was hesitant at first, and enjoyed myself more than I had anticipated.  I quite concur with my friend Sarah, perhaps the most moving moment was one in which the entire room of native Bostonians stood up and sang Hatikva together, in Jerusalem at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.

One of my classmates who attended has created quite a successful life portfolio for himself, considering he spent most of high school getting suspended.  A married man with three children, an independent business person who has recently moved his office to Modiin Illit, so that he may employ Ultra-Orthodox women.  A speaker of three languages - Hebrew, English and Russian- he frequently appears on Russian television as a political analyst, and he in fact served as the MC for the evening.

Besides all that, he has recently become the Chairman and organizer of the Alyn annual Charity Bike Ride, which this year took place in the wake of the bombing of the North of Israel. 

OK, so he has the house/wife/kids thing going on, and he manages to stay in shape so he can bike ride across the country.

I am jealous of his ability to work out on a regular basis despite the many demands of his daily routine.

Last year, I trained sufficiently and ran the 10K in the Jerusalem Marathon. Persevering in the hail and the shrieking wind, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and was on a high for weeks afterwards, having accomplished this particular personal goal.

This year I tried training, but my knees complained bitterly, awaking an old injury from the age of 18.  My Chiropractor and I tried to create a program that would ease my knees and the rest of my body into a comfort zone, but as a single mother I didn't have the time to enact our plan in an ideal manner.

The mature me and the doctor in me has accepted that this year it is not meant to be, and I have renewed my commitment to run next year once again.

Yesterday a patient told me that he had run from Herzelia to Tel Aviv and back, a total of approximately 20 kilometers, and that it was "easy and fun," that he "almost didn't notice the distance." I genuinely congratulated him, and inside felt a little piece of my own heart sink.  Every time I see a sign for the Marathon, whose finish line is located right near my house in Gan Saccher, my hearts sinks just a little bit more.  It is starting to eat away at my confidence, as I reconsider what I have achieved in my life toward true excellence.

Maybe I should take the day off and go to the beach in Tel Aviv...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Driving Lessons

The day I received my driver's license at the age of 16 and a half, I had to swear to my parents that I would always wear my seat belt, and then had to pry the set of keys out of my father's hand.  It was always clear to me that a vehicle can become the ultimate weapon in the wrong or negligent hands, and that having a license added a huge responsibility to myself and those around me.

I remember the first time I drove home with Baby Raphaela in the back seat in her car seat, I practically had a nervous breakdown thinking about everything that could possibly occur.

We always joked in our family that my youngest brother, now 25, was so spoiled that my parents would be giving him driving lessons as a toddler, and in fact I can remember my brother as a child sitting on my father's lap and "steering" while my father backed out of the drive way.

In summary, I take driving very seriously.

This morning, after dropping off Raphaela at Gan, I came to the corner of my street and witnessed the following, in horror:  a father, who I could see in the distance at the bottom of the hill, had left his unattended four year old with their running car, key in the ignition, at the top of the steep hill.  Around the time that I arrived on the scene, the little girl was about to close the heavy door (on her fingers) and settle into the driver's seat.  For her own safety and any pedestrians who might get injured if the car went out of control, I stopped this four year old from touching any 'grown-up' buttons in the car, and supervised her until her father returned approximately ten minutes later.

I know that Israelis pride themselves on trusting their children and giving them more independence and leeway than in other Western cultures, and while I appreciate the maturity it grants the next generation, in this case it could have been lethal.  When was the last time Raphaela or any other curious human around her age sat quietly, when there are so many buttons to press and an opportunity to drive just like Mom or Dad?

I watched over this girl, and when the father came back to the car, I nodded somberly in his direction and he could barely make eye contact with me;  I am hoping that is a sign that he understood the gravity of his error. ( pun intended)  I chose not to yell or point out the absolute irresponsibility of his behaviour.

On this, Israeli Family Day, it seemed clear enough.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Family Matters III

Raphaela's Gan, in honor of Family Day and Israeli Mothers' Day, hosted an event yesterday evening for the mothers of the children of all classes within the school. The program included a festive meal and socializing, a lecture on communicating with toddlers from a child psychologist and a musical interlude.  The lovely and creative manager of the Gan, and all the teachers and moms had the opportunity to get to know each other better, outside the quick and dirty morning drop-off and afternoon pick up, and occasional play date.

The catered quality food came out of the on-site kitchen;  if this tasty and luxurious spread is at all indicative of the meals Raphaela receives every day, I envy her. 

[Note of useless interruptionthe more I see this Gan operate, the dramatic development and growing self-confidence of Raphaela since the beginning of the year, I am kicking myself for not switching her out of that Montessori Nightmare sooner.  She was clearly sidelined there, one of the youngest and made to feel like the mouse in a den of lions, and I feel like a somehow inept parent that I did not see it sooner and act accordingly.  First pancake of the batch, I know, and I still feel lousy.]

The first thing that struck me was the bulletin board in Raphaela's classroom, which had been appropriately festooned in the family theme, to teach the children about relationships and the random names that language assigns to members of our extended tribe.  In the center stood the smiling mother and father, with siblings on one side and grandparents and extended family on the other.  Framing this scene were certain drawings the children of the Gan had made, and a section that highlighted typical loving families, pulled from photos that parents had sent in from their personal albums.

Among the various typical pictures of nuclear Israeli families eg mother father, brother sister and baby playing in the snow, I saw, prominently featured, myself and Raphaela and our cat Harry, laughing together.

It is one thing for a religious institution to make all children and their assorted families feel accepted within the broader system, it is above and beyond to highlight the Jewish single mother by choice, with feline.  I give them credit and I thank them for recognizing all of us as part of the greater community.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Family Stats

According to the report released in honor of the upcoming Family Day:

73,000 Israeli couples have opted to live together without marriage, representing  approximately 5% of the population.

12% of all Israeli families in 2011 are single parent units, with 107,000 households consisting of a single Mom or Dad and a child under army age.

The number of unmarried single mothers rose 60% between 2000 and 2011, and we now number 13,500 amazing women.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

That Amazing Brain

This morning while dressing Raphaela, I made an astounding observation regarding her speech patterns:   I,  born and raised into adulthood in the United States, consider English my mother tongue, Spanish my first "foreign" language, and Hebrew my second foreign language.  My Spanish has fallen to the wayside because of disuse, and now I flow freely between Hebrew and English, living in Jerusalem, Israel and treating mostly Hebrew-speaking clients. 

I still prefer to read my English newspapers, and rarely read a Hebrew novel. Recently I bought the diaries of the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and his son (RIP) the fighter pilot Assaf Ramon; the book was published in memory of the tenth anniversary of Ilan Ramon's death, along with the rest of the crew of the space shuttle Columbia.  I have started it and continue to happily slog through the Hebrew, a point of frustration for me, as in English I speed read and can finish an entire novel in an hour.

When I make errors in Hebrew, it is most often because my head has translated a phrase incorrectly from my native and more comfortable English.

When Raphaela speaks full sentences in English, she's good.  Her Hebrew is already better and in some ways more sophisticated than mine, thanks to her Gan experience. When she speaks mish-mash sentences, it becomes an encryption challenge that demands a solution (think "The Da Vinci Code" in toddler speak), and my brain has become quite adept at the skill.  When she makes mistakes in English, it is because she is fact translating a phrase in her head...from her native and more comfortable Hebrew.

"Mah Rabu Maasecha!" [Hebrew for "How great are your deeds and creations, Oh Lord!"]

Family Matters II

Tonight in the car, on the way to the Bar Mitzvah of the son of one of my oldest friends, Raphaela and I were discussing families, the most recent topic at Gan. We talked about the concept of sisters and brothers, and I brought examples of people we know to illustrate the point; my brothers and I, for example, my niece and nephews with whom we spent one week during our vacation in the Sates in November, and even my mother and her sisters, whom Raphaela has met as well.

Then I asked Raphaela if she had any brothers or sisters, she smiled and answered a whole-hearted, "Yes! I have a sister."

When I asked her, "Who is your sister?" Raphaela smiled again and answered, "Mommy!"

Friday, February 1, 2013

Fertility in the News

Israel has long been hailed as a country on the cutting edge of fertility technology, and two recent articles throw some of that reputation into question.

The first piece that appeared this week stated that Israeli hospital institutions were in fact going beyond the fertility protocol in terms of frequency of treatment, as a result there has been a recent drop in the success rate.

The second article (in today's Haartez) reported that professional committees will be set up in all hospitals to asses the fitness of a potential parent, and states that doctors will now have the right to refuse the procedure, "only if it is clear that the child's quality of life will be so poor that it's possible to say it would be better had never been born."  Of course this new ethical inquiry would affect only those women who are attempting a so-called unnatural birth, a standard couple  having sex will not be scrutinized even if they would make lousy parents.

The criteria include physically disabled applicants, those with a clear history of psychological disorders, and patients with a background of drug or alcohol abuse, sex offenses or child abuse.

The fertility panel estimates that out of the 20-30,000 women who receive fertility treatments, only 50 to 100 will be referred onward to the committee.

I certainly don't see myself as a risk to my child or society, though I wonder if I would have passed their standards as a single mother by choice.  That's a lot of power to give to one group of people, literally the power of life.